What 8 Years of Pay-per-Click Has Taught Me about Local SEO

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Most people don’t know I also help clients with pay-per-click advertising – mostly AdWords.

I’ve been doing PPC for longer than I’ve been monkeying around in local search – since mid-2006.

I’ve used it for some clients’ businesses, and for mine (early on).  My first clients and readers may recall clicking on an AdWords ad to find my waifish one-page site, around 2009-10.  That was the only way they could find it, for a time.  I’ve had skin in the game.  (If I couldn’t write ads, you might not be reading this.)

Why should you care about pay-per-click and me?  You shouldn’t.

But PPC and local SEO…now that’s a little more interesting and relevant to you.  They’re alike.  Different ballgames, sure.  But you can learn a lot about one from the other.

It’s useful to know how similar paid and local search are, especially if you rely on one form of visibility but want belt and suspenders.  Let’s say you do pretty well in the local rankings but want a foothold in the paid results – or vice versa.  You’ll want to know what strategies can help you in both places.

Here’s what many “Web years” of PPC has taught me about local SEO:

Basic truths

You need to stand out in some way.  Or else you’re wasting your time.  What is it about your little blob of pixels – your PPC ad or local search result – that makes customers want to click on it?

It takes time to become profitable.  In AdWords it takes weeks or months to test which keywords, ads, and landing pages bring home the most leads.  Any work you do on your local SEO also usually takes months to pay off.  Don’t start when you’re desperate.

You’re only as good as your website.  It doesn’t matter how many clicks you get or how you get them – paid or for free.  If you don’t get people to take the next little step, you’ve failed.

Simply reaching more people isn’t necessarily better.  Your first priority needs to be getting visible to the people who know what they’re looking for – not the tire-kickers.  Be visible for “transmission repair” before worrying about “mechanic” or “auto repair.”

There’s always room to improve.  A 21% click-through rate can become 23%.  If your rankings are as good as they can get, keep racking up reviews and adding useful content to your site.  As Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s) once said, “If my competitor was drowning, I’d stick a hose down his throat.”

The 80/20 rule is king.  With PPC it’s more like 95/5: probably 5% of your keywords will bring you 95% of your leads, 95% of the progress you’ll make will result from spending time on that 5%, etc.  It’s less-pronounced with local SEO, but still true: 80% of the citations you could get don’t matter much, 20% of the tune-ups you could make to your site affect your rankings, 20% of your customers will end up writing you a review, but those reviews are visible to 80% of the people who find you online…I could go on.

Strategy lessons

1 minute of extra work up-front saves you 2-3 minutes later on.  Don’t want to build separate adgroups or landing pages for each of the specific services you’re advertising?  Just want to launch?  Fine, but you’ll be overpaying for clicks – at best.  More likely, you won’t get any phone calls and will have to restructure anyway to revive your campaign.  It’s similar with local SEO.  For example, if you don’t fix your listings at the main data-providers, you’ll have a never-ending amount of clean-up to do on your citations.

You pay for ego.  If your ad must be #1, expect to pay twice what ad #2 costs.  If you’re ranked #2 in the local results and you think you can move up that one slot just by making quick tweaks, you may lose that #2 spot.  You’ve just got to grind some more.

Your landing pages need to be “local.”  If people can’t tell that you serve their region both before and after they click, they’re probably hitting the “back” button.

Bing is tiny by comparison.  Do not spend as much time on it as on Google.

Constant tinkering is unwise.  In PPC you need to let your ads run head-to-head until you’ve concluded statistically that one ad pulls better than the other.  To get visible in the local results you need to do a bunch of work and let the dust settle before you do more.

Change is constant.  Whenever Google rolls out something like enhanced campaigns in AdWords or the “new” Places dashboard, you can’t be in the dark. 

Hard knocks


You play by Google’s rules.  If you don’t want to, that’s your call, but nobody at Google will field complaints like, “But that’s where all my customers find me!”

It can be good, cheap, or fast.  Pick any two.  In the case of PPC it can only be so cheap.  In the case of local SEO it can only be so fast.

You should learn a little about how your paid or free visibility works.  Or be vulnerable – vulnerable to people who know more than you do, but who can’t or won’t do a good job for you.  For PPC I suggest learning from Perry Marshall, Howie Jacobson, and Brad Geddes.  Unless this is the first post of mine you’ve read, you probably know who I recommend for local search.

It’s dangerous to rely on one form of visibility.  PPC and local SEO can also make one heck of a combination.

Many business owners only see the obvious costs – the costs per-click, or what a local-search pro charges to help.  They aren’t as good at crunching the costs of missed opportunities, or the costs of relying on other ways to get visibility and leads, or the costs of hiring the lowest bidder.

Too many business owners fixate on the click.  Not as much on what happens after the click.  Do you say at the very top of the page what services you offer, and what you don’t offer?  Is it clear how potential customers can find the other pages they might want to see?  Is it impossible to miss your contact info?  If they don’t want to pick up the phone today, can people stay in touch by leaving their name and email – and are you giving them a good reason to?

Pep rally

Many or most or all of your competitors suck.  They don’t know about split-tests or negative keywords, or they don’t know about local citations or even Google’s rules.  To the extent they may (temporarily?) be more visible than you, it’s despite their actions or inactions, not because of them.

Many business owners would sooner pay out the nose than spend a little time learning.  If you invest that bit of time, you can take the reins if you need to, or better ensure that your PPC helper brings his/her A-game.

The Big Boys only get the basics right.  They leave opportunities open.

There’s often a point when less work is needed month to month.  The business owner can (and maybe should) ease into learning the ropes, and managing the campaign and not feel overwhelmed.

You win whenever you use your antennae.  If you’re always trying to understand your customers better, you’ll know what they want to see in the search results and on your site.

Where do you see overlap between PPC and local search?  Big differences?  Leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. “Many or most or all of your competitors suck” – probably one of the most overlooked ideas in local SEO. I’m glad this is in your list of things you’ve learned :)

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